David Hickling

Airport Director David Hickling via videoconference Thursday evening.

The Federal Aviation Administration has awarded Keene more than $4.5 million in grants to extend and improve a taxiway at the city-owned Dillant-Hopkins Airport in North Swanzey.

The taxiway is parallel to the main runway, but does not run for its full length. That means that planes have get onto the runway and taxi to the end of it, before turning around and taking off in the opposite direction.

The project would extend the taxiway, allowing planes to take it all the way to the runway’s end, which Airport Director David Hickling said is safer and more efficient. In addition, the airport plans to reconstruct the existing portion of the taxiway, where pavement has deteriorated.

The grants will cover 100 percent of the construction costs, according to Hickling. He said he expects most of the construction to be done next summer.

Another, much smaller FAA grant of up to $33,300 is to cover 90 percent of the cost of work on navigational aids that guide planes approaching in poor visibility.

Hickling presented the grants to the Keene City Council’s Finance, Organization and Personnel Committee on Thursday. The committee recommended unanimously to accept the grants and enter into an engineering contract with the firm DuBois & King. The matter now goes to the full City Council for a final vote.

Over Zoom, Hickling told city councilors that the project was originally split into two phases, starting with the extension. But the airport managed to secure a supplemental FAA grant to fund the pavement reconstruction at the same time.

Usually, projects funded through the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program require a 10 percent match — 5 percent from the state and 5 percent locally. But because of the CARES Act, the federal COVID-19 relief bill passed in March, the FAA is funding projects at 100 percent this year, Hickling said.

The committee also took action on a separate airport project, recommending that the city enter into a contract with DuBois & King for design and administrative services related to the replacement of aging fuel tanks. The current underground tanks, which provide fuel for airplanes, are decades old and soon may not be eligible for liability insurance, according to the city’s capital improvement plan.

Hickling told The Sentinel that the airport plans to replace them with new above-ground tanks, which are better environmentally. The capital improvement plan puts the project cost at about $515,000.

Paul Cuno-Booth can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1409, or pbooth@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @PCunoBoothKS